Catholic schools adopt test-to-stay

St. Athanasius School administrative assistant Jackie Albritton practiced a nasal swab test on principal Margie Reece during her training to test children for COVID-19. During a real test, she wears personal protective equipment, including eyewear. St. Athanasius adopted the test-to-stay modified quarantine option Oct. 11. (Photo Special to The Record)

Some Archdiocese of Louisville Catholic schools have adopted a modified-quarantine option known as test-to-stay — which aims to keep more students safely in school — and others are considering the option, said Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, superintendent of schools.

“We want to keep our students in person but we also want to keep them healthy and safe. This gives us an opportunity to keep them in person with the other layers of protection” already in place, Bowling said during an interview last week, adding, “The Kentucky Department of Health has suggested this would be a way to limit quarantines.”

Those layers of protection in Archdiocese of Louisville schools include a mask mandate in school buildings and a requirement that students be spaced at least three feet apart to mitigate transmission of COVID-19.

Under the test-to-stay modification, asymptomatic students who would typically be quarantined after being in contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus, can instead be tested at school each day for seven days. A negative test allows them to attend class that day.

​​“Let’s say I’m a close contact today and I test negative today and tomorrow through the next seven days. Those are days I can stay in the classroom,” explained Bowling. “They’re staying masked, keeping the three-foot distance and the other precautions in place, but they’re staying in the building.”

St. Athanasius School implemented the program on Oct. 11, though since then the school hasn’t had any quarantines. Principal Margie Reece said she decided to adopt test-to-stay after 11 children had to quarantine — many of them had only been out of a prior quarantine for a few days.

“I know that wasn’t best for those kids,” she said. “That’s what really prompted me to make that decision. I contacted Bluewater Diagnostics Oct. 1. They had us trained, set up and ready to go by the 6th of October.”

A federal grant provides funding for Bluewater’s costs, Reece said, so the school and families pay nothing for the testing.

The company trained the school’s administrative assistant Jackie Albritton to do a nasal swab test (not a painful “brain jab,” Reece noted) with a 15-minute result.

Reece said parents overwhelmingly welcomed the program, though it is entirely voluntary. Those who prefer a traditional quarantine may stay home and have work sent home.

After announcing the plan, “parents were emailing us for the permission slip before we even sent it home,” Reece said. “We all share the same philosophy that kids need to be in school. They get the best education in school. If they’re in quarantine, parents have to take off work or contact a grandparent.”

Under the archdiocese’s test-to-stay guidance, students in this modified quarantine may only attend class, where the other layers of protection — such as masking and distancing — are most easily controlled.

Students are otherwise considered under quarantine, including for sports and other activities, said Superintendent Bowling.

“I’m not going into volleyball practice, using the same ball, breathing heavily. That’s a totally different environment. Our classrooms are maintaining that distancing environment,” she noted.

Given the unpredictability of the pandemic, Bowling added that the test-to-stay option could be modified or scrapped if the situation changes.

“As we move forward, things will continue to change. Along with the health department, we will continue to monitor this. If we were to see an uptick and it’s from test-to-stay, we would of course stop doing it.”

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